Ben-Hur. This classic tale of revenge and redemption did not need to be remade; well it was and poorly done to boot. Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is a Jewish prince living in luxury in Jerusalem. Messala (Toby Kebball), Ben-Hur’s adopted brother, falsely accuses Ben-Hur of sedition. Messala is an officer in the Roman occupying army and has Ben-Hur sent to sea as a galley slave, where he endures endless hardships. He survives a shipwreck, is saved by an Arab Prince (Morgan Freeman) and returns to Jerusalem to seek revenge against Messala. After vanquishing Messala in a chariot race Ben-Hur finds redemption as Jesus is crucified. The film’s dialogue is clunky, some of scenes will make you cringe as they look artificial and none of the actors connect with the audience. This is another Hollywood remake flop. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and disturbing images.
War Dogs. The Iraqi War is in full swing when two buddies in their early 20s, David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli, (Jonah Hill) set up a business in Miami to exploit a new government program that promotes small businesses to bid on Military contracts. They make a killing selling handguns to the Army. They take their millions back to Miami and live the highlife. Greed is a stern master and they go for a $300,000,000.00 contract to arm the entire Afghan Military. They get the deal and now have to deal with the underbelly of the arms world and get in way over their heads. Everything that can go wrong does. Based on true events, the film is much more of a morality tale than a comedy. The film does engage and kept my attention throughout, as there is never a dull moment. Rated R for language throughout, drug use and some sexual references.
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World. The Internet is explored from its humble beginnings in a computer lab at UCLA to the vital all encompassing experience of our age. Is the Internet a benign tool, an evil mistress, a hiding place for modern day robbers, an addiction, the cause of mass illness, or a transformative connection that will take humans to the next level of evolution? All of these issues are explored in this thoughtful and provocative documentary that fascinates from its opening scenes. It is not a geeky scientific expose but a very thought provoking exploration of a system that in 20 years has completely dominated our lives. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some thematic elements. It is a Peggy’s Pick.
Little Men. Modern life in New York City is explored in this tender and telling tale of deep emotions, greed, rejection, love and money. The story follows two awkward teenage boys who are about to start high school and find a keen friendship that allows them to grow. Jake (Theo Tapitz) is an aspiring artist. Tony (Michael Barbieri) is brash and a bit too street wise. The tension develops as their parents battle over an inheritance and the need for Tony’s mother to pay rent to Jake’s family that she no longer can afford. Their neighborhood is gentrifying which brings more tension and new challenges. Jake’s dad (Greg Kinnear) is a mediocre actor who faces rejection daily. The boys face rejection from their peers. The adults do a poor job of making things better, but the boys who grow apart also grow up and give us hope for the future. This indie film has top-notch performances, so seek it out. Rated PG for thematic elements, smoking and some language.
The Little Prince. Director Mark Osborne brings us an animated film based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s iconic masterpiece, The Little Prince. A helicopter mother who is controlling all aspects of her daughter’s life is smothering The Little Girl. Her mother wants her to be a perfect grownup. Their next-door neighbor is the eccentric and benevolent Aviator who tells The Little Girl of a magical world where everything is possible. The Little Prince took the Aviator to the other world years ago. The Little Girl’s imagination begins to run wild and she finds the magical world and The Little Prince. With her childlike convictions and spunk she discovers the importance of human connections and what is truly essential in life – not forgetting. The end of the film is a whirlwind of action mixed with philosophy as The Little Girl saves the world – reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Rated PG for mild thematic elements. This is not for children younger than 10. Available on Netflix.
Tallulah. Ellen Page is Tallulah. She is much like a feral cat. She has escaped an awful childhood and is living out of her van and committing petty crimes to stay alive. Her boyfriend, Nico, wants to settle down and get married. She sends him packing and heads to New York City. While foraging leftover food in a NYC hotel she is confronted by an airhead, bimbo housewife who is heading out for a tryst. Desperate to be rid of her 1 year-old, the bimbo enlists Tallulah to babysit. Tallulah sees an opportunity to make a big score but ends up taking the baby to protect her from her mother. She is now alone in Manhattan with a baby and no money and no ability to care for a baby. She seeks out Nico’s mother, Margo (Alisson Janney), who lives in Manhattan. Margo has a huge amount of her own emotional baggage and now is faced with Tallulah and an alleged granddaughter. The two women begin to bond. They both have troubled lives and find a weird friendship. When all of Tallulah’s transgressions come home to roost and she is heading to jail, we sense that she may have gotten her act together with a new found faith in truth. Janney and Page turn in remarkable performances. Rated R for language and sexual content. Available on Netflix.
Sausage Party. This gross-out animated film will forever change your attitude toward the food you buy and eat. Frank is a hot dog who can’t wait to hook up with a curvaceous bun when the gods (humans) take them away to the great beyond. Well Frank figures out with the help of Honey Mustard this it not going to end well. The whole movie is foul-mouthed food items trying to survive the voracious gods. The film has some clever things to say about religion, society taboos, cultural bigotry and sacred cows. There are many sexual jokes, some funny but most just perverse. Some of the best jokes were different ethnic foods discovering they had much in common, including sexual preferences. Someday these filmmakers may finally discover that raunchy is not clever. Rated R for strong crude sexual content, pervasive language, and drug use.
Florence Foster Jenkins. Meryl Streep is Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress and music patroness who dreamed of being an opera singer. The only problem is that she had a terrible singing voice and couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. The film is based on a true story. It is set in 1944 and brings that time alive. Florence’s husband, Bayfield (Hugh Grant), is incredibly devoted to her while keeping a mistress and an active social life away from Florence. Florence’s dream is to sing in Carnegie Hall which she is finally able to do with the help of her husband, accompanist and vocal coach. Streep who is actually a trained opera singer screeches and clucks up a storm as she celebrates this woman’s indomitable spirit. With pluck and luck Florence turns her performance into a triumph. The film is engaging and fun to watch its first-rate acting. Rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material.
Suicide Squad. Mindless comic book quality adventures, chases and grand schemes that left me cold but others in the theatre seem to appreciate with relish. Based on DC Comics the film is trying to out marvel the Marvel Comics characters. The film is full of super bad characters. The US Government assembles a team of the most dangerous Super Villains, all of whom are in jail. They are given weapons of mass destruction and sent off to defeat a mysterious enemy who appears invincible. The Super Villains are the world’s only hope. Dead Shot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Griggs, The Joker (Jared Leto), Diablo, Killer Croc, Bat Man and others are the despicable creatures that will do anything to vanquish the enemy. Collectively they are the Suicide Squad who does not fear death in attaining their goal. None of the film makes much sense, but it does have an awful lot of action. Rated PG – 13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.
Don’t Think Twice. A loving look into the world of comedy and performance. The film is written and directed by Mike Birbiglia. On the surface it is light-hearted comedy that follows the lives of six members of a Manhattan Improv group called The Commune. The group is really a tight company of friends who know how to work together and complement one another. They create magic on the stage. Jack (Keegan-Michael Keyan) an ambitious member of The Commune tries out for Weekend Live! (Think Saturday Night Live), but he is conflicted. His ambition wants him to take the offered gig, but he is deeply troubled about leaving his loyal group behind. The Commune reacts organically to this sea change as each one of them deals with self-doubt, envy, self-discovery, and emotional conflict. These are real characters to which we can relate. The script handles these issues cleverly and warmly. This is an indie treat, so find it and enjoy. Rated R for language and some drug use. It is a Peggy’s Pick.
Café Society. Woody Allen revisits one of his favorite themes, the golden age of Hollywood and the people that created the dreams. Set in the 1930’s Hollywood, Phil Stern (Steve Carell) is the most successful agent in show business. He is at a swank party dropping names when he is called to the phone thinking it is Ginger Rogers. It’s not; it’s his sister Rose Dorfman informing Phil that her son, Bobby, is moving to Los Angeles to work with Phil. Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) lives with his kosher mother Rose and jeweler father Marty. Bobby meets Phil about a job but is instantly drawn to Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Their romance leads to a love triangle that drives the film and sends Bobbie back to New York to run a nightclub for his gangster brother. The film careens all over the place as Allen gets to show off lavish sets, gowns and women while his favorite jazz hums in the background. The film is not his best, but very watchable. Rated PG-13 for some violence, a drug reference, suggestive material and smoking.
Indignation. Based on the Philip Roth novel of the same name, the film quietly and completely engages with strong performances by all. Set in 1951, we meet Marcus Messner, a principled son of an unassuming kosher butcher from Newark, N.J. The father adores his son and will do anything to protect him from the Korean War draft. The family sends Marcus to Winesburg College in Ohio to study. It is a small Christian college that allows Jews to attend. Marcus is smart and an intellectual rebel who finds himself at odds with the Dean. Their discussions are inspired. Marcus encounters anti-Semitism and just plain boorish behavior. He is drawn to the beautiful but troubled Olivia. She helps him with his sexual frustration but their relationship is doomed. The film is a poignant expose of young, restless energy facing down hidebound attitudes and the avoidable heart breaking consequences. Rated R for sexual content and some language. Another indie treat to find and enjoy. It is a Peggy’s Pick.
Phantom Boy. The film is a French animated story set in New York City. The US version is completely in English but with a French flair. It’s about an 11 year-old boy, Leo, who is sick with an unspecified disease. He is stuck in a Manhattan hospital for lengthy treatments when he discovers that his spirit can leave his body and fly around. An evil crime boss, assisted by henchmen and a small attack dog, has gotten his hands on malware that can destroy Manhattan via the Internet. In the hospital, Leo meets a cop with a broken leg and lets the cop in on his secret talent. The cop and his girlfriend Mary, a journalist, with the help of Leo’s spirit vanquish the super villain and save Manhattan from the malware. The film is a comic book adventure with a heart and a few good laughs. The French take on US crooks is interesting. Rated PG for thematic elements, violence and a suggestive situation. It is a Peggy’s Pick.
Jason Bourne. The fifth installment in the Bourne series is a rollicking good time. Chase scenes, hi tech skullduggery, double crosses, flirtations, revenge and slowly revealed truths will keep you on the edge of your seat. From Athens, to Berlin, to Reykjavik, to London, to Beirut, to Las Vegas and to Rome the action never stops as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is at first a phantom renegade and then gets drawn back into his former life as a CIA operative. Julia Stiles is back as former CIA operative Nicky Parsons who sets the action in motion as she attempts to disclose the CIA’s black-ops on the Internet. Tommy Lee Jones is CIA Director Robert Dewey with more double crosses than a crooked black jack dealer. The real star of the movie is Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee as the CIA super tech sleuth. She dominates all of her scenes with a huge unanswered question about her real motives. The movie ends with a set up to the next. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language.
Star Trek Beyond. The latest installment of the Star Trek saga is a worthy addition to the epic space adventure. Hard to imagine but it is the thirteenth film in the Star Trek film franchise and the third installment in the reboot series. Fifty years ago in my Freshman Dorm I watched the first Episode on a back and white TV. The crew of the USS Enterprise is sent to explore the outermost reaches of unknown space. They must navigate through an ultra dangerous nebula to rescue a lost spaceship but have to confront a brutal enemy, Krall. Krall destroys the Enterprise, enslaves the crew and threatens the Federation with annihilation. But Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, a mysterious blonde alien and a motorcycle are in action and with a bit of luck and a lot of ingenuity they save the day. Star Trek and Sci Fi fans will enjoy, others may find all of the action confusing and hard to follow. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. The absolutely fabulous British sit-com from the 1990s is brought to the big screen. The gag runs a bit thin over a 90-minute film, but the old gals are still a kick in the rear. Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) are still boozing and smoking up a storm with over the top glitz and glamor. They live the high life shopping, drinking and night clubbing all over London’s hippest hot spots with no apparent way to pay for anything. Edina pushes model Kate Moss into the Thames at a high society party and all hell breaks lose. The gals must flee the press, the police and the paparazzi. They fly to the French Riviera where they plot a marriage to a rich widow to live free and wild forever in the South of France. Rated R for language including sexual references, endless smoking and some drug use.
Our Little Sister. A wonderful Japanese film that explores the meaning of family and sisterhood in our modern world. The film is charming and will warm your heart, as you will feel part of this wonderful and imperfect family. Three sisters live together in an old house in Kamakura, Japan. The house was their late grandmother’s and they honor her memory daily. Their parents both left to run off with other mates. Sachi is the oldest and is a nurse at the local hospital. She acts as a replacement mother to Yoshino and Chika. One day, the sisters learn their estranged father has died and they reluctantly decide to attend his funeral. They travel to far away Yamagata and discover they have a half-sister Suzu, 13. She is an amazing young woman who is now orphaned. The three sisters invite Suzu to move in with them and she does. Their relationship develops as they confront fears, misconceptions and heartaches; relish triumphs and realize their bond as sisters is remarkably strong as they share a common heritage that makes them even stronger. This is a remarkable movie that will certainly be in Oscar contention. Find it and enjoy. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief language. It is in Japanese with English subtitles. It is a Peggy’s Pick.
Ghostbusters. The 2016 version of the 1984 classic is silly fun but otherwise grates because it is just a remake. The film does not take advantage of the four women comedians to make something new and fresh. Slimy ghosts invade Manhattan and paranormal scientists Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), gadget engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and subway token monitor Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) team up as The Ghostbusters to save Manhattan and the world from the ethereal monsters from the ghost world. There are many cameo appearances that poke fun at the original. The film just jumps from one special effect scene to the next without much coherence. Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor.
The Infiltrator. It is 1985 and Bryan Cranston is a U.S. Customs official who exposes a money-laundering scheme created by Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel. He tells his boss “I think we’ve been doing this backward. We’ve been following the drugs to get to the bad guys. What if we chased the money?” Bryan Cranston plays real life agent Robert Mazur who goes undercover in the drug cartel. The tension is thick as Mazur and his team face torture and murder if they are not convincing. Mazur’s plans are risky but they work as the cartel and its bankers are brought down. The remarkable performance by Cranston is the reason to see this film. The film is overly long and some of the plot points are hard to follow. Fans of crime drama will enjoy the film’s tension and over the top climax. Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, and some sexual content and drug material.
The Innocents. It is December 1945 in post-war Poland. Times are tough but the Germans are gone but the Russians linger. Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Lâage) is a young medical intern working with the French Red Cross. They are assisting French survivors of the German camps. On a cold day, a Polish nun appears and pleads in poor French for a doctor to come to her convent. Mathilde sees the nun praying in the snow and decides to help. They return to the convent and Mathilde is faced with an emergency C-section and that seven other nuns are pregnant and due soon. The lives of the nuns and their beliefs are examined in light of the awful circumstances the war has brought upon them. It is not just the nun’s lives and faith, but Mathilde’s life and beliefs that are challenged when she sees how faith supports the nun’s way of life. This is an amazing film that handles difficult matters of faith and reality with grace and insight. Complex themes of incomprehensible cruelty and fate are handled well. The beautifully filmed landscapes are evocative of the film’s themes of melancholy and hope. This is an incredible film and an Oscar contender. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including sexual assault, and for some bloody images and brief suggestive content. In French, Polish and Russian with English subtitles. It is a Peggy’s Pick.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople. New Zealand writer/director Taika Waititi has made a masterpiece of wit and adventure that all should see. The film centers on the young life of Ricky Baker – a pudgy, orphaned juvenile offender who creates haiku poetry to exam his emotional states. A victim of New Zealand’s sketchy juvenile welfare system, Ricky ends up on a dilapidated farm somewhere in the rural bush country with Bella and Hec as foster parents. Bella and Hec are old souls who tolerate the lad well when all of sudden tragedy strikes and Ricky and Hec must leave the farm and strike out to live off the land in bush country. A national manhunt ensues as Ricky and Hec outsmart government welfare officials, the army and bounty hunters as they survive for months in the wilderness. Their adventure is priceless as they meet all sorts of interesting folks while on the lam. Find this film and enjoy. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content, and for some language. It is a Peggy’s Pick.
The Secret Life of Pets. From the folks who brought us the Minions comes a cute film about what our pets do while we are away or at work. Set in Manhattan, Max is an adorable Terrier and favored pet whose comfy life is threatened when his owner brings home a shaggy, outsized mongrel named Duke. Their spats are nothing compared to what a sassy, adorable white bunny named Snowball is planning. He is creating an army of lost pets to take over the pet world from the pampered house pets. The dogs cleverly escape the dog catchers, the critters survive trips through the NY sewer system, falling off the Brooklyn bridge is no big deal, a trip through a sausage factor is hilarious and when the day ends the owners come home to contented pets. The animation is quite good but the story lines are silly and far-fetched. Rated PG for action and some rude humor.
Buddymoon. A very interesting premise that just does not catch fire. Dave (Dave Giuntoli) is a former child actor who is dumped by his fiancé just days before their wedding. Dave climbs into a booze bottle to drown his woes when his impulsive German best man, Flula, shows up. Flula tries to console his friend and insists that the two of them go on the planned honeymoon – hence, a buddymoon. Dave reluctantly agrees and they take off on a seven-day backcountry trek in the isolated mountains of Oregon. They have quite a series of adventures. A paranoid mountain man gives them some magic mushrooms. They meet fellow wilderness travelers. The meet a wolf, try the mushrooms and experience all of the ups and downs of the trail. There are some funny bits but too many plot inconsistencies and forced moments leave the film wanting. Not rated, but likely R due to adult content. Available on VOD services.